Hi once again people, it’s the Classic Film Kid here with another film review.
Today we are looking at one of the true classics, and that is Sidney Lumet’s 12 Angry Men. This film stars Henry Fonda, Lee J. Cobb, Ed Begley, and Jack Warden as just 4 of 12 jurors, who are sat in a room trying to figure out whether a teenager is guilty of killing his father. Yep, that’s the whole movie. And interestingly, after doing a bit of research, I found out that this story was first told as a teleplay, then was made into a stage production, then finally this film. This one is deemed to be by far the most iconic of the three adaptations, and quite rightfully so, because this film is riveting, marvelously acted, well-scripted and simply a brilliant piece of cinema. There is not one moment in this film where I thought it lagged, not one. Bearing in mind, this is coming from a 13-year old, who is not in the least bit interested in law, and really has something against films being too long.
A movie like this, with a confined setting, can’t really do much regarding camerawork or special effects, so this film needs to be held up entirely by the writing and acting, and my God, it is. The script is tight, focused, and efficient, with dialogue between characters being intense and meaningful. When I watched this with my mum and dad, I was amazed at the simplicity of the whole thing. If this film was made today in the current state of Hollywood, you can bet there would be flashbacks to the real events, there would be a lot more stuff going on, and moments that would ruin the effect of being contained to that one jury room.
In this, however, the only setting is the juror room and some very brief shots of outside at the end, and the only characters are our twelve jurors who, despite that slightly daunting number of characters to have in one room, all get their time to shine and interact with the others. This is the core strength of the film and what drives it to be a classic. The film doesn’t aim to develop these characters all that much or even tell us their names not because they don’t want to – it’s because they don’t need to. They don’t even tell us whether the kid they were deciding the verdict on was even innocent or guilty at the end of it – for all we know, he could have committed the crime.
Seeing these characters voice their opinions, using smarts and knowledge to back themselves up, and get into full-blown arguments, is engaging and thought-provoking. Never do their dynamics or interactions feel predictable – when they take another blind vote, you genuinely don’t know who will vote guilty or who will not, and that’s the genius thing. It’s a tale of characters turning on each other but ultimately seeing each other’s points – not deciding whether a kid is guilty or not. Well, it kind of is, but this is where the main hook of the film comes from anyway.
Despite the 12 jurors all contributing to the film in creative and interesting ways, there are 2 characters who stand out from the crowd: Henry Fonda’s Juror 8 (later revealed to be called Davis) and Juror 3, played by Lee J Cobb. These characters could not be more opposite if they tried. Davis is hesitant at the start, and disagrees with the rest of the group: however, Lee J Cobb has made up his mind – the child is guilty, end of story. Fonda constantly tries to prove the boy’s innocence to the 11 jurors and it slowly but surely works out for him, but Juror 3 needs a lot more persuading. Lee J Cobb’s character is in a way the film’s main antagonist, due to him having the opposite viewpoint to our main protagonist, something which is the norm for a lot of cinema. Indeed, the film initially begins with 11 antagonists, due to the other jurors all thinking he’s guilty aside from Davis. But as the characters are gradually won over by Fonda’s case, it is only Cobb who remains.
This is the moment where we realise just why he thinks the boy is guilty, and his difficult family life is revealed. It’s a powerful scene that features a superb bit of acting from Lee J. Cobb, and ends with him finally settling the court with a tearful ‘not guilty.’ It’s an ending that doesn’t feel too abrupt nor too long and resolves the story in an emotional, meaningful way. In the end, the two opposing men even side with each other, as juror 8 picks up the coat of the distraught juror 3, in a very poignant shot. This film is a perfect example of making the most out of what is a very confined setting: a small room paves the way to a riveting 90 minutes showing how the discussion of a jury consisting of 12 complete strangers unfolds. It’s an unbelievably simple premise, but it manages to be elevated by its wonderful character-driven script and performances by the ensemble cast. Its a film with an engaging beginning, a shocking middle, and a heart-wrenching ending, and a film that delivers splendidly in each of its three acts has done something remarkably right.
I will give 12 Angry Men a 9.5/10. Given my glowing review of this film, you might be surprised that I didn’t give it the full 10. This is because my chances of rewatching this film repeatedly are slightly lower than with some of the other films I’ve reviewed, like Jaws or Coraline. I did absolutely love it, but it’s definitely not an easy-going ride. Still marvelous, though.